If there were suggestions of a bowl between Kentucky and Iowa in early October, some might have thought it could happen in the College Football Playoff. Iowa was ranked second in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and Kentucky checked in at No. 11 after both teams began the season at 6-0.
Now, Iowa is ranked 15th and Kentucky 22nd in the College Football Playoff rankings. They come in No. 17 and 25, respectively, in the Associated Press poll.
The relatively low total of 44 set by the college football spreads makes it clear that Iowa’s style of play is expected to win out, as the combined scores in Kentucky’s last four games were 87, 51, 72 and 73.
Kentucky entered the season with an expected win total of seven and Iowa’s number was 8½, so both teams exceeded expectations, despite each have a couple of games they’d wish to forget.
- Game: Kentucky (9-3) vs. Iowa (10-3)
- Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
- Day/Time: Saturday, January 1, 1:00 p.m. ET
- Television: ABC
Kentucky Wildcats vs Iowa Hawkeyes
|Kentucky||-3 (-110)||-145||44 (-110o)|
|Iowa||+3 (-110)||+125||44 (-110u)|
Rodriguez, Robinson bring balance to Kentucky’s offense
When you play in the Southeastern Conference and are on a list with Alabama, you’re obviosuly doing something right.
There are two SEC teams with at least one 1,000-yard rusher and one 1,000-yard receiver. Alabama checks both boxes and earns extra credit with a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. The only other SEC team with both a rusher and receiver with more than 1,000 yards are the Kentucky Wildcats.
Chris Rodriguez has rushed 205 times for 1272 yards, while Wan’Dale Robinson has 94 catches for 1178 yards, becomimg the first Kentucky player with 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Randall Cobb in 2010.
The only other teams from Power-5 Conferences with at least one 1,000-yard rusher and receiver are North Carolina and Ohio State, putting Kentucky in pretty select company.
With those dynamic playmakers it’s no wonder that Kentucky had five games with more than 40 points this season. They had managing six such games in the previous three seasons combined.
When Rodriguez rushed for more than 100 yards and Robinson had more than 100 receiving yards in the same game, Kentucky went 4-0.
Yards might be hard to come by in the bowl game., however. Iowa led the Big Ten in passing efficiency defense as opponents had a passer rating of 108.9, also the fourth-best mark in the country. Iowa is also ninth nationally, allowing just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt.
Four of the last five Kentucky games have gone over the total.
The Wildcats have covered against the college football odds in eight of their last 12 games.
Receivers Josh Ali, Dekel Crowdus and Isaiah Epps are out. Ali is Kentucky’s second-leading receiver with 601 on 41 catches.
Three Players to Watch
Receiver Robinson has 94 catches for 1178 yards and seven touchdowns. Kentucky is 4-1 when he has at least 100 receiving yards.
Running back Rodriguez had rushed for 1272 yards and eight touchdowns, also a pair of touchdown catches. Rodriguez has seven games with at least 100 rushing yards, including the last four games of the regular season.
Linebacker J.J. Weaver leads Kentucky with two interceptions and 6½ sacks.
Let’s hand it to the sure-handed Iowa secondary
Looking at the numbers, it could be hard to understand how the Iowa Hawkeyes reached the Big Ten championship game.
Only Indiana averaged fewer yards per game than the 297.5 yards Iowa compiled this season. Iowa ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scrimmage plays of at least 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. The Hawkeyes had one game with more than 250 passing yards, but finished 10-2 in the regular season before being torched by Michigan in the Big Ten title game.
So how exactly did Iowa come out victorious 10 times this season? Probably the first place to look is the ball-hawking Hawkeye secondary.
Five Iowa defensive backs had at least two interceptions, led by Dane Belton’s five picks, the most by an Iowa player since Josh Jackson’s eight in 2017. Riley Moss returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns as the opportunistic Iowa defense had four touchdowns while often giving the offense short fields.
Iowa’s 24 interceptions are the most by an FBS team since San Diego State’s 26 in 2016.
Iowa had seven games with multiple interceptions, including 10 picks in a two-game stretch against Maryland and Penn State. The Hawkeyes are 6-1 when intercepting at least two passes this season.
Kentucky has thrown at least one interception in nine of the 12 games this season. The Wildcats are -13 in turnover margin this season. Only Arizona had a worse number among the 130 FBS teams.
Something to ponder for those who bet online, four of Kentucky’s last five games have gone over the total.
All-American cornerback Matt Hankins is out. Defensive lineman Ethan Hurkett is out. Running back Tyler Goodson has opted out after declaring for the NFL draft. Goodson led Iowa with 1,151 rushing yards, the most by an Iowa player since Marcus Coker had 1,384 in 2011. Goodson was the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher in each of the last three seasons.
Kirk Ferentz says to expect Ivory Kelly-Martin, Gavin Williams and LeShon Williams to play in the Citrus Bowl with running back with Tyler Goodson’s decision to go pro.
— David Eickholt (@DavidEickholt) December 23, 2021
Three Players to Watch
Center Tyler Linderbaum became the 10th Iowa player to be named a unanimous All-American, selected to the All-American teams by the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, the Walter Camp Foundation and the Sporting News.
Iowa has earned a reputation as ‘Tight End University’ as three of the nine NFL tight ends with at least 60 catches played at Iowa (George Kittle of the 49ers, T.J. Hockenson of the Lions and Noah Fant of the Broncos). Junior Sam LaPorta is the latest star tight end, leading Iowa with 46 catches and 548 yards. He was also the Hawkeyes’ leader with 27 catches in 2020.
Linebacker Jack Campbell went from making 34 tackles in 16 games in his first two seasons to posting a team-leading 129 stops in 2021. He also returned an interception for a touchdown against Illinois and had a fumble return TD against Iowa State.
Iowa is just 2-5 against the spread in its last seven games.
Betting on the Game
Kentucky is second in the SEC in time of possession. The Wildcats are 13th among FBS teams in time of possession at more than 32 minutes a game. That has been a key in limiting the time the Wildcats’ defense has been on the field.
Iowa ranks last in the Big Ten when it comes to scoring red-zone touchdowns. The 41% mark only tops New Mexico and Arizona among the 130 FBS teams. Kicker Caleb Shudak is tied for fourth nationally with 23 field goals, but settling for field goals could be problematic when facing an explosive Kentucky offense.
The total set by the Las Vegas odds has gone under in four of Iowa’s last six games when listed as the underdog.
Kentucky has covered in four of its last five games against teams from the Big Ten.
Iowa has lost two of its last six games against SEC teams.